well, the dean said it pretty well:
I am delighted that you have made your first seat deposit and that you will be joining us in August 2009. The class of which you will be a member promises to be the strongest in the history of GW Law.
You may be aware that this year our ranking by U.S. News and World Report fell from 20 to 28. I, like most law school deans, believe that such rankings systems are fundamentally flawed and that students should not give any one factor, including commercial rankings, undue emphasis when making the important decision of which law school to attend. I cannot avoid the fact, however, that for many individuals the U.S. News rankings play an important role in the law school selection process. For this reason, I am writing to share my views concerning GW Law’s placement in this year’s U.S. News rankings.
First and foremost, I want you to know that the only changes at GW Law during the past year have been for the better and have enhanced the opportunities for success that our students enjoy. Among the factors that I believe an applicant should carefully consider when choosing which law school to attend are depth and breadth of curricular and clinical offerings; internship and placement opportunities; talents and academic achievements of the student body; quality of teaching and scholarship; the spirit and cohesiveness of the community; strength and commitment of the alumni network; and reputation of the institution among legal scholars and practitioners. In each of these areas in the past year, GW Law has remained steady or improved.
So what explains our U.S. News ranking? The answer is a change not in our law school, but in their methodology. In prior years, U.S. News did not rank part-time programs or include statistics for part-time classes in its overall school rankings. This year, the magazine created a new ranking for part-time programs. This new part-time ranking compares part-time programs with part-time programs. In this ranking GW came out #2 in the country. There is not, however, a similar ranking that compares full-time programs with full-time programs. Part-time median LSAT and GPA scores were, for the first time, combined with full-time scores to determine a school’s overall ranking. This change had an impact on the rankings for some law schools that have large part-time programs, including GW. Had U.S. News compared full-time programs with full-time programs, GW Law’s overall ranking would have been higher.
GW Law has had a part-time program for more than 100 years, and it is a program in which we take a great deal of pride. Unlike the full-time program, the part-time program serves as its primary constituency a unique group of individuals who live and work in the D.C. metropolitan area. The applicant pools for our full- and part-time programs are quite different in some key respects. Our full-time applicants come from around the globe, and the majority either has not yet been in the workforce on a full-time basis or has worked full time for only 1 or 2 years following college. By contrast, our part-time students typically have been in the workforce for a number of years. Through their extraordinary professional achievements they bring great richness to our law school community. In many cases, the greatest strengths of our part-time students are not reflected in their undergraduate grade point averages or LSAT scores, but rather in the diversity of their experiences. And, each year, our part-time students continue to achieve positions at the top of their class alongside their full-time colleagues. Graduates of our part-time program include present and former U.S. senators, federal and state court judges, a former U.S. attorney general, and many other leaders of the bench and bar.
Until this year, U.S. News apparently had recognized the uniqueness of part-time law students and had allowed law schools to operate these valuable programs free from the pressures of numerical rankings. Given the weight many prospective students place on commercial rankings, I fear that law schools will now be forced to reevaluate the way in which they historically have admitted applicants to part-time programs. I fervently hope that those schools that have served this special community of students will continue to do so without their efforts being diminished by the pressure to maintain LSAT and GPA medians for ranking purposes.
When viewed over time, it is clear that most law schools’ U.S. News rankings move either up or down on a regular basis, and, additionally, that the magazine periodically changes the methodology it uses to rank law schools. Resulting sudden and sometimes dramatic changes in rankings obviously do not reflect sudden and dramatic changes in reality. I can assure you that, regardless of rankings, the national and international reputation of our institution will continue to prosper and that we will maintain our commitment to serving all of our students.
As I mentioned above, the only changes that have taken place at GW Law are positive ones. To name a few:
* Our fall 2009 application volume increased by 8.5% and the fall 2009 admitted applicant pool is the strongest in GW Law history.
* We have increased scholarship and grant funds by more than 50% in the past three years.
* One of our graduates currently is clerking on the U.S. Supreme Court and another GW Law graduate will begin his clerkship on the Court next fall. In the past 6 years, 5 GW Law graduates have been selected for Supreme Court clerkships.
* GW Law continues to rank among the very top law schools placing graduates in the 250 largest U.S. law firms.
* We continue to expand co-curricular opportunities for our students, such as the new Journal of Energy and Environmental Law.
* We have further strengthened our commitment to public interest by creating the position of associate dean for public service/public interest.
* We are increasing opportunities for students interested in international law. Most recently the Law School established the prestigious Gruber Foundation International Law Fellowship, which funds a student to clerk for the International Court of Justice at the Hague.
As always, please let our Dean of Admissions, Anne Richard (firstname.lastname@example.org
), or me know if you have questions or if we may be of assistance as you prepare to begin your legal studies.
I look forward to seeing you in August.
Frederick M. Lawrence
Dean and Robert Kramer Research Professor of Law
The George Washington University Law School